I can hardly believe it's been almost 8 years ago that Sam and I left our roles as senior pastors and came on staff at Victory Church in Atlanta. And there I was once again, after 40+ years in ministry, with a new church and a new youth ministry...
In his book, Geeks and Geezers, Warren Bennis made a scientific study of leaders and what characterized them. He found, "The ability to find meaning and strength in adversity distinguishes leaders from non-leaders more than any one single quality...
Have you ever felt the sense of being helpless? You know, you don’t have enough emotional energy to go anywhere or do one more thing. All your normal motivation and your coping skills are letting you down...
If you've never read Jim Collins' bestselling leadership book, Good To Great, I highly recommend it. In his book, he tells a story that is very profound and gives us wisdom as we look at our current times in dealing with COVID-19 as leaders...
As I write this, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This significant event has brought the entire world to its knees. I remember so well where I was 19 years ago...
Sometimes going through some of life's "dark tunnels" with God can feel like one of those creepy amusement park rides…the further you go in the tunnel the darker it gets and you just want to say...
Being a broken youth pastor, keeps us connected to our kids, but understand in a moment what is perceived as one of your strengths can soon become one of your greatest weaknesses...
Someone once privately asked me an interesting question. "How do you build something in youth ministry that will really last, Jeanne?"...
If I could give only one gift to the youth leaders of today, it would be a fresh dose of passion for the calling we are privileged to live out. It was once said, "The worst bankruptcy in the world is the leader who has lost his passion..."
"Control freak!" That's the term we use in youth ministry for senior pastors who won't give us our way or elder boards who veto our latest hot youth ministry idea. But to be honest with you, I have an element of the "control freak" still inside of ME. And from time to time, it has been costly in the progress of our youth ministry. How about you?
I just left yet another youth pastor. I was trying to be a friend to this youth leader who, in his words, is "getting his head kicked in." The issue? Criticism.
It's the secret, unspoken fear of many of youth ministry's finest and most experienced leaders...they are concerned that they are getting "too old."
Scripture speaks much about the worth of endurance. It seems to celebrate the saints that were considered plodders. Even contemporary business success illustrates the point that there is no magic moment when you want to move from good to great...
I think Jesus Himself was a "CONNECTOR" before He was a "CORRECTOR." Remember how He dealt with the woman at the well, the tax collector found in a tree, and the lady exposed in adultery? He took time to personally connect with their feelings before he began to share His specific advice...
One of the worst things we've allowed to happen in the Body of Christ is to have friendships within the walls of the church and another group of friends outside those walls...
Happy New Year my amazing friends! We are at that time again, when people are chalking up their resolutions for the New Year. So while you are thinking over what some of the targets on the wall are going to be for you this year, I have a new goal for you...
What is it that kids are really looking for in their youth leaders? Through my years in youth ministry, I've learned that a youth pastor with lots of charisma and a highly entertaining youth ministry are great...but today's "over-entertained" youth are looking for something more...
As you are busily decorating, attending holiday parties, and planning inspiring services celebrating the Lord's birth, are you secretly whispering in your heart, "Lord, where are You?..."
With all the demands and challenges of ministry sometimes you get lost and you forget why you decided to do youth ministry in the first place. To avoid that in my own life, I follow a few simple rules...
Night after night I sat around a table looking in the eyes of men and women, young and old, from all different backgrounds, and saying "This could be an amazing ride, but I need you...
Remember watching re-runs of The Bill Cosby Show or Happy Days? It's a great exercise for youth leaders in our era. Why?
We all know that building friendship isn't easy to do in our crazy day-to-day world. That's why twice a year we strategically plan a weekend designed to build relationships, and make a spiritual impact on our students' lives. In the last 50 years of ministry, I've done this more times than I care to count...
Going into this youth ministry journey I had no example of what a youth ministry was supposed to be like. I only knew that two amazing volunteers came in unpaid and unappreciated...
Before we got married, my future husband Sam and I were on a date and I asked him what some of his goals were. He shared with me some awesome dreams, but one of his goals was particularly attractive to me. He said, Jeanne, until it's time for me to tie the knot, I want to be successfully single." I had never heard anyone say that before, and he really had my attention.
When I began to sort through the times when I felt like God was really far away, I remembered that when I was growing up, the teacher seldom talked while giving a test. I wonder if that has anything to do with some of God's silent times in my life?...
Nobody ever told me in youth ministry that I would face many times when I was trying to bring the teenagers closer to Christ while I felt a million miles away from Him myself...
I talked with a youth pastor the other day that was absolutely exhausted. Though there was a strong family atmosphere in his youth group and great small groups, he was trying to do it all himself because he couldn't get leaders to commit to more than one night a week...
Want to take a guess at the excuse I've heard most often by teenagers who stop attending local youth meetings? It's two simple words: “It's boring!"
While services are obviously a huge part of a successful youth ministry, I think it's invaluable for you to take your youth gang outside of the four walls of the church. The truth is that the youth group or life group that PRAYS together and PLAYS together, STAYS together!
"Hey, Mother Teresa," the voice called out to me. "Thanks for helping me out." He slammed his car door, gunned the engine, and waved as he drove off the church parking lot. I smiled for a minute to myself, thinking of an old CNN interview I saw years ago with Mother Teresa. "Not a bad person to be compared to," I mentally assured myself.
In the world of ministry, the path you travel consistently provides you with the opportunity to build one of two kingdoms: Yours or God's...
Move over Boomers, Xers, and Millennials! There's a new and powerful generation that's on the scene now that makes up more than 25% of the American population.
Moral failure is so much broader of an issue than staying out of bed with people you're not married to. To be honest, moral failure is so much more than just a sexual issue. It's an issue that seeps into our finances, our truth-telling and where we go to on the internet.
Why is it that when we're in ministry, we expect people to be different when it comes to handling conflict?
Ever done one of your counseling sessions on the top of your church roof with a feather pillow in your hands? I did. And looking back on that crisp fall afternoon, I think Jesus was probably smiling...
You know the story. A handsome prince falls victim to a jealous ugly witch. The terrible spell is cast as she pronounces to the kingdom, the prince would remain an ugly frog unless he receives a kiss from a beautiful princess...
I'm often asked, "How did you make the teenagers in your ministries still feel special as it started to grow to some of the bigger numbers? One of my simplest, most profound keys has always been...
Be careful that you don't become a leaky umbrella spiritually. As a youth pastor or youth leader, whether or not you realize it, God has established you as an umbrella of protection over the kids in your group.
We've all heard of the famous American, Paul Revere, who warned that "the British were coming," but we rarely hear about the other man, William Dawes, who was sent out with the same message but whose name has faded from view. Why?
It was front page news in a issue of USA Today. The headline read "Obituary Takes a Turn," ...around sentence four, the summation of Kathleen's life story took what the writer called a "cringeworthy turn."
There will be no magic moment if our heart is to make Hell hate us...
The Bible promises in Isaiah, "I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord." When God places inside you the desire to know Him, you quickly discover His characteristics and attributes are endless...
There are some amazing ministries that are fortunate to have vans or buses to bring in students and help grow their ministries. Though this is an awesome way to grow your ministry, sometimes there are some special challenges that come along with this type of growth.
As youth leaders, it's really easy to "talk about prayer" and yet rarely make personal time to pray ourselves.
Let's define BURNOUT. It's an emotional response we can all feel when we are carrying a large amount of weight. It's like the more we GIVE, the less fulfilled we FEEL. I would say the key word that explains burnout is demoralizing. You are just worn out. You don't want to give another ounce of yourself.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, claimed that one of the keys to his success was consistent reviews and evaluations. He took time out on an annual and semi-annual basis to review what was happening within his corporation. And it didn't stop there. He still does it...
Have people hurt me? Yes. Were they people whom I deeply loved, sincerely trusted, and honestly believed in? Of course. Were they less loyal, less faithful and less loving than I had hoped? Sure. But...
I've always been the "overly conscientious one." Relate? I mean, I try too hard to "be good" and not disappoint people. Way too hard...
People often ask me how to GROW their ministry or how to PREACH with more skill. Rarely, if ever, do people ask me how to LISTEN more effectively. But I think INTENTIONAL LISTENING is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to another human being. And today's church world seems to be much more focused on TALKING than on LISTENING.
OK, I've got to admit you're right. I'm was married to my senior pastor for most of my ministry life, so it makes it pretty difficult for him to fire me as his youth leader! But most youth leaders don't have that "inside track."
Creating a sense of family can be a real challenge if you are called to a church that has had numerous youth pastors over the last several years. I had this very real challenge when I began my ministry in Rockford, IL and then again when we moved to Atlanta.
Everybody has a different barometer for what success is. Success to me is that I have raised up some leaders around me who look at life differently, who begin to have life lived through an eternal focus rather than just, "How much money do I make," or "How big the sign is on the front door of my office."
I often find myself asking the Lord to refocus my attention on the bottom line principles that make a youth ministry one that makes heaven celebrate. Interestingly enough, I found that in an article about the famed UCLA Bruins and their historic coach, John Wooden, its implications in youth ministry significance are quite profound.
So you've spent hours and hours planning for your big event... it was going to be awesome... amazing... life changing... and it bombs! Big time!
I'm back there again! I'm hanging out, a bit begrudgingly, again in "God's Waiting Room." Ever been there before? It's the place where answers to prayer seem suspended in the heavenlies. The place where things that I thought would take 10 days...
As youth pastors, our time and attention is usually drawn towards the loud, the rebellious, the "cool" kid. There's nothing wrong with talking with and spending time with these kids. Regardless of whether we want to or not, they demand our attention.
When creating a sense of family, it doesn't mean that you have to lose your leadership role in the lives of your students. I often tell my leaders that you have to be more of a coach than a companion, but that doesn't mean that there cannot be friendship there.
I remember speaking for a group of several hundred students. The night felt like it went pretty well to me. Pretty well, that is, until an arrogant freshman in high school unloaded on me right after I walked off the platform.
"Can I talk to you, Jeanne?" he asked firmly.
Becoming a person who helps others heal through difficult times requires not being enamored with your own solutions. Relax, your divine teaching moments will come when you've earned the right to speak loudly into the lives of others. But the less frequently you sit down and sincerely feel what's going on inside Mary or Herman or whoever, the less frequently those moments will come.
If you've been around me much, you've probably heard me say one of my favorite quotes on friendship, "Show me your friends...and I'll show you your future." But not too long ago, I heard the haunting line from one student, "I'd like to know where these friends are? No one wants a real relationship anymore."
Often some of your amazing volunteers are adult leaders with families, including smaller kids and it's a challenge for them to give more time to your ministry than just the few hours each week during your service.
Guy/girl relationships during the teenage years stand among the most predominant issues most youth pastors consider to be a delicate subject, yet it remains a topic all youth pastors must not ignore. My deliberate approach always involved infiltrating their minds through one liners like, "Puppy love leads to a dog's life."
"The Enemy reserves the right to cash in on your personal sin in the season he deems the most opportune..." – Jeanneism
"Hey, Mom, I've done something terrible and they found out..."
"Jeanne, I never dreamed this would come back to haunt me..."
Do you have EGR's in your ministry? You know, those "Extra Grace Required" kids? When we moved to Atlanta after leaving a ministry of 1,000 students a week in Sacramento, the small group of bored kids in the youth group here was a real wake-up call.
Sometimes when a youth group is small and has been together for awhile they become very close and there's a chance that they like it that way. They're afraid if they invite others to the group it will "ruin" it for them. This can be discouraging to your efforts to grow your youth group.
Research shows that only 29% of workers are "engaged" at work. A full 71% of employees were cited as "not engaged." Let me define the terms as Gallup sees it. He calls the "engaged worker" one who displays passion for the company and feels a sense of connection to its mission. In contrast, the "disengaged worker" is the person who essentially sleepwalks through the day, meeting only the baseline expectations.
Truth be told, many of us experience the holidays feeling more like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas than Elf or It's A Wonderful Life. One North American survey reported that 45% of those polled said they actually "dreaded the holiday season." Hospitals and medical professionals back this up by saying that Christmas is the season with the highest rate of significant depression in North America.
The holiday season is the perfect time to have "Family fun" with your kids and your leaders. In our events, such as trampoline jumping in our living room and turkey basketball games, we made sure they became traditions not just spur of the moment ideas. This youth culture sees lots of youth groups, but rarely do they experience what they most crave...
Once in a while I come across someone with a lot of leadership potential but they are hesitant to grow because they were previously "hurt" by another leader who offered to help them grow in their leadership abilities but failed to give them the time and support they needed to reach their potential.
True happiness cannot be obtained by having a large ministry. It comes through having a large heart. Far too easily we equate true happiness with staggering numbers and being flown around the nation, but too quickly we buy into what is honestly a fallacy of ministry.
Instilling heart into your leaders for your kids is one of the most important things you can do. Each year around 100 Atlanta Leadership students come to us from all different parts of the country and different backgrounds. One of the first things I try to instill in them is heart. How?
"Are you tired enough yet?" the internal voice asked me. And almost immediately, I knew what Jesus was trying to say. "Jeanne, what are you trying to prove? Are you exhausted enough now to finally think you have 'earned the right' to turn off your iPad and get some sleep?"
As a youth pastor, I can almost guarantee that you will have the opportunity to use these principles sooner than you wish. But in truth, some of those painful, isolating times of loneliness will help make you someone in the ministry who has something inside to give to others.
I remember when I first dared to ask my mother, "Mom, you live such a lonely life. Don't you ever want to divorce Dad?"
She paused for a minute, obviously taken off guard by the bluntness of her young daughter's question. But then she responded very deliberately and lovingly, "Sure, Jeanne, I have for a long time. But I won't."
Just the other evening, one of my seniors in high school said seriously, "Jeanne, we need to talk. I'm really confused." Somehow, I knew intuitively where the discussion was going. "I have to make some major decisions about where I'm going to college," she continued, "and I'm really confused about how to know God's direction in all of this."
Finding a balance with your family and ministry is never easy, but half the battle is your commitment and the attitude that accompanies it.
If you’re going to be a real leadership trainer, it is taking a deeper interest in your volunteers, at least key ones and pouring your gut into them that will make a difference.
If I want to inspire other people to grow, I've got to keep making the non-glamorous choices. These are some simple ways that I encourage the people around me:
It's that time of year! ALC will officially be 100% here and in full swing by next Saturday. Second years, third years and support staff are already settled in, with first years arriving over the weekend. That means the quiet halls of the summer will now be full of the life and energy of nearly 100 ALC gang. I would have it no other way, but it is not without challenges.
To say excitement is in the air in anticipation of our first year students coming in next week would be a huge understatement! Regardless of what the year holds, I'm ready to give my heart away yet again. While the 9-month journey with most will be incredible, four decades in youth ministry tells me that one or two will break my heart.
The core growth strategy for my youth groups over the years has been creating a youth church environment of AUTHENTIC FRIENDSHIP AND LOVE. Though your preaching, worship, and evangelism all play a big part in youth ministry growth...your strongest "drawing card" to this lonely young adult culture will remain a RELATIONAL ONE.
Lately, if you checked out the books I keep in my favorite reading spot on the back porch, you would see the 4:8 Principle by Tommy Newberry. This book is so good, I've probably read through it seven times.
Because I have these breathtaking people around me and I never want them to feel like I'm not carrying my own weight, one of my most mammoth mind games and one of the biggest challenges I face is learning to take time off without guilt. Yet without this time, I know I cannot do effective ministry. So I try to follow a few simple rules:
Years ago I attended the funeral of Pastor Wendell Smith, the founder of City Church in Seattle and Pastor Judah Smith's father. It was such a great picture of someone who had really made their life count for something. In that moment, I was very much aware of my own mortality. What did I really want my life to stand for?
There have been stages in my life, when I have been asked to go on when I have felt completely physically and emotionally drained and I have wondered how I possibly could. It was during those times that I remembered the moment when everything must have felt for Christ the emptiest and the most depleted...
They are FOR WHAT YOU ARE FOR. And as long as you are "for what they are for," they will walk with you. They will stay in the ministry trenches with you.
These people are not for YOU, nor are they for WHAT YOU ARE FOR. Instead, they are simply AGAINST WHAT YOU ARE AGAINST. Thus, they're willing to get in the trenches and do battle with you AGAINST something.
We talk about worship all the time...it's a part of our every Sunday morning routine. But how big of a deal is "worship" in the Lord's eyes? In the Scripture He says it's THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL THE COMMANDMENTS. So, let's take a look at some thoughts when it comes to what biblical worship is and what it isn't.
There will be times in your "youth family" when you will have to deal with emotional issues such as accidents, death, illness, divorce or any of the things that happen in life when you ask the question, "Where were You, God?"
Regardless of where we stand in the pecking order at home, at work, or at the church, we all serve someone. Many of us in youth ministry submit to a senior pastor or if you're a leader you might look up to your youth pastor. Through the years I've always sought to be the armor bearer for others and practice the principle Zig Ziglar always reiterated – "You cannot hold a torch to someone else's path without bringing light to your own."
We live in a pretty ungrateful society. From your boss, to the parents you try to please, to the students you love, rarely will you ever get all the affirmation you deserve. Let me take a minute to tell you that while I challenge you to continue to cultivate the art of affirmation in your ministry, I want to encourage you. I apologize for all the times you've waited too long to receive a decent compliment. Cheesy though it may sound, I mean it when I say that I think you're amazing, and you really are doing a great job.
I recently received an email from a member of my Cadre who was wondering, "Am I asking the right questions?" Sadly, not too many people pause to ask those kinds of questions.
Though the word-game has become trite, his questions are now beginning to shift from "success" to "significance." I realize the worn out nature of those two words; but they aptly describe the transition he is wanting to make.
You know you're a success in youth ministry when teenagers take you for granted and fail to appreciate all you do.
This might sound strange, but when you parallel your youth ministry to Christ's experience with His disciples, it makes sense. The 12 guys on His ministry team never sang, "How Great Thou Art," to Him. In fact, they often seemed unimpressed by the sacrifices Jesus made to minister among them.
You know you're a success when you've been in one place long enough to have "remember when" stories.
Persistence is the greatest revenge on hell. In our dysfunctional society, where complete family units are an endangered species, we can define successful youth ministry with three words: "Just be there." Sounds simple, but in a world of "rotating relationships" a long-haul ministry can't be overrated.
You know you're a success when you fight to remain a voice, not an echo.
There are many echoes in youth ministry...people who merely mimic the culture's values rather than fight to be a distinct voice for biblical values. I'm not talking about legalism or nitpicking about music styles or body piercing here. I'm talking about being a prophetic voice in the lives of our young people...a voice that has something to say about character, conscience, and conviction. It requires no energy or backbone to simply echo what kids want to hear.
Contrary to popular belief, staying up all night with teenagers, jumping on trampolines, driving bumper cars, playing basketball with a raw turkey, and chasing pigs no longer entice me. Yes, as you laugh, it is true I did each of those things. But let me be quite truthful... those things are not my idea of fun. Yet if you watched me participate in any of those activities, you would never guess I was not having the time of my life.
Have you ever gone through "Desert Times" in your life? You know...the dry times when God feels a billion miles away and any sense of "feeling" in your walk with the Lord is long gone. It's when the voices of failure, discouragement and inferiority get real loud in your head. We are forever giving out in youth ministry and it can become incredibly depleting.
When my boys were younger, I only allowed myself to travel two days out of every month. Each time I returned from a trip, my precious children scurried, squealing, "Momma, Momma, what did you bring us?"
Gossip isn’t the only dangerous enemy in our youth groups. It has an ugly cousin that I call sarcasm or “scar-casm.” Because our youth culture so loves humor, it is often viewed as a friend rather than a foe. The reality is sarcasm pushes this idea of “humor at any price.” I’ve watched many “cool” youth leaders that choose to use sarcasm to communicate with their teenagers.
When you first move to a new town, how do you find out where all the teenagers are "hanging out"? When was the last time you privately invited a small group of students to help you brainstorm or launch an outreach or a change in your youth group? If you haven't, I guarantee you're missing out on what could potentially be your secret allies.
When I was training in college to enter youth ministry, I often mentally bemoaned the lack of "real world courses" that would prepare me for my journey. Now, more than four decades along, I stand by my youthful thoughts. One such course could have been titled, "Conflict Resolution 101."
If you have been around me for any length of time, then you know that I am a woman on a mission to leave a legacy that honors Christ. So let me take a few minutes and share with you 6 thoughts on what it looks like to craft your own legacy:
Once upon a time, a well-meaning Sunday school leader declared to the teenagers that showed up Sunday morning after Sunday morning, “You guys are going to like each other or else we’re going to die trying to make you…” The truth is many of us have felt like we’ve already died trying. Creating a family feeling in our youth groups is easier said than done.
Great executives know how to do one thing well – surround themselves with amazing individuals. The president chooses his cabinet wisely, a CEO carefully selects his staff, and a youth pastor must handpick solid leaders to take the group forward. One of the first things I have done in every ministry I began is to search out good leaders.
Does your ministry need a shot in the arm? Here are a few simple steps you can use to generate or re-generate excitement about your ministry.
Late one night my phone rang and before I could finish saying, "Hello," the voice on the other end frantically spoke.
"I'm so sorry to call you late. I don't know what to do. I love where I'm at. I just need to take care of my family, and this is such a great opportunity... hello?"
If you're in ministry, remember, God doesn't call you to be His business associate, He calls you to be His son or His daughter. It is still agonizing to me how many people are in the ministry and don't carve out a consistent time, even if it's 10 minutes in the Word and 10 minutes in prayer each day, with the Lord. For me, it's my back porch time, for my husband, it was his appointment with the Lord. I don't know that it ever happens unless you consistently have a certain time of day you do it. For me, it's the first thing in the morning.
Most churches are not large enough to have separate ministries for their youth so they have the challenge of creating harmony in a group of energetic junior highers, high school students and sometimes young college and career age adults.
Your senior high and college/career kids can be annoyed for a thousand different reasons, and especially by the energy of a kid in junior high. They will not be annoyed though if they feel like they own a few of those junior high kids. Almost like a big brother or big sister.
We are trying to reach a generation that has seen very little commitment to standards and morals from their parents. So we should not be surprised that the word "commitment" is a nice word on a spelling list, but rarely seen. Our kids so want to be committed and here are a few ways that we can help them live that out.
In Cadre emails, I'm frequently asked to share some of my tips on developing a great leadership team. I thought you might enjoy hearing a few too. While some of the points may not sound too "glamorous," please just know that they work if you have the guts and endurance to keep doing them.
We just came off of our 3rd Year Intern Advance and will be leaving on Thursday for our 2nd Year Advance... in between we’re doing a huge outreach tomorrow night. It’s during these times, as I stand at the front of the room looking at all the amazing diverse faces starring back at me, I’m reminded of who is in my midst... particularly the Stephens and the Drews. Allow me to share their story…
My mind reeled with an entire list of things that needed to be done before 6 pm, and the day was flying away from me. Two phone appointments, a brief game plan meeting, a lunch appointment with an eagle, and then finally after resolving a conflict between two staff members, I raced back to my office. I knew I wouldn’t have time to run home and change, so I threw my outfit together and brought it with me in the morning so I could quickly get ready for the service.